The Basics of Opioids

What Are Opioids?

Opioids are a class of drugs that include prescription opioids as well as illicit opioids, like fentanyl and heroin. Opioids are prescribed to provide relief for extreme, acute pain, such as post-surgical pain. Fentanyl and heroin are chemically very similar to prescription opioids, but are much stronger and more potent.

Common prescription opioids are:

Oxycodone  |  Hydrocodone  |  Oxycontin® | Vicodin®  |  Percocet®  |  Codeine  |  Morphine

Check your medicine cabinet today to see if current or old medications are opioids. View Resources.

What Are 
Opioids For?

Opioids are made to provide extreme, short-term pain relief. They relieve pain by blocking the body’s pain receptors, meaning the physical reason for feeling pain is there but we don’t actually feel it.

Opioids are effective for short-term pain; however they are also highly addictive, and our bodies can quickly become dependent on their effects. As we build tolerance for the medication’s effect, our bodies crave more to continue the same benefits of pain relief. This can quickly spiral into dependence and addiction if prescriptions are not monitored closely.

What Are 
Opioids Not For?

Opioids are not designed for long-term pain management, for emotional or mental pain, or for healing physical injuries. In fact, because they are so powerful and addictive, the CDC states that three days or less is usually enough, and that taking opioids for more than seven days is rarely recommended or productive. In 2018, Chicago passed its own law limiting opioid prescriptions to seven days for city employees. Fifteen states have also implemented similar limits.

NEXT:The Dangers of Opioids

Opioids are really powerful drugs that can get anyone dependent or addicted, and even lead to overdose and death. Learn the risks to protect yourself and others.